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Please check out my new blog location at http://blog.consulting101book.com/

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Keeping Your Cool Under Pressure

It hasn’t happened often, but I’ve worked with some very unreasonable clients.  Either they have exaggerated expectations of their highly paid consultants, or they know that they can get away with abuse without the threat of us going to Human Resources.  I’ve never taken it personally and I’ve found that if I look closely enough, I’m not the only target for these people.

Considering the rates they’re paying, I’ve never been able to figure out why they don’t work with us rather than against us. I suspect each difficult client has their own reason.  Some people like to stir the pot and exhibit their power over other people.  Another observation I’ve made is that they like to push people’s buttons to see how far they can go, and consultants are easy targets.  Maybe they were bullies when they were in grade school.

With this type of client, I’ve found that the worst thing you can do is let them get to you.  They may rant and rave about how badly you or your firm as screwed up.  I had one client tell me that I was just a paper pusher and he had to walk behind me doing damage control.  I had to wonder, if all I did was push papers, how much damage could I have caused?  But I didn’t bring that up.  I tried to stay calm and ask questions.  In the most non-confrontational way, I would try to diffuse the situation and ask him to provide specifics in an effort to help resolve the problem.  I knew he was being irrational and just blowing off steam.  I could have yelled and called him an asshole, but for me to get angry in response would have just escalated it and potentially gotten me removed from the project so he could save face.

Speaking of saving face, I’ve found that sometimes, they are so irrational, it’s a no-win situation.  If the client thinks you’ve done something wrong, it may be best to fall on your sword, apologize and ask what you can do to rectify the situation. This is a particularly good strategy when the client is right.  Denying that you screwed up when you really did looks much worse than just admitting you are wrong.

The key tactic is to remove emotion.  Whether they are trying to get under your nerves or doing it unintentionally, you must maintain your professionalism and keep your composure.  There is nothing to be gained by heating the argument up further.

This applies even more so when it comes to emails.  If a client sends you an unfairly critical email, you may have a first instinct to flame one back at them.  But documenting your angry tirade will only give them evidence to support removing you from a project.

You may think that being removed from a project like that is a good solution if it will get you away from this jerk.  But if you leave because you couldn’t handle a client, that could be a black mark on you within the firm, that will last the rest of your time in their employ.  Rolling off of the project could also land you on the bench reducing your utilization, and by extension, your evaluation rating, your raise and your bonus. It’s best to suffer through to the end of the project and move on.  That’s one of the great things about consulting; right about the time you’ve grown weary of a client, you get to move on to the next project at the next client.

When a client flies off the handle, there could be a thousand reasons ranging from their boss being a jerk, to personal issues at home.  It can be for any number of reasons.  Even if they have a legitimate argument, it’s no fun to be ridiculed unnecessarily.

If you can say something to ease the tension or help solve the problem, that’s great.  Sometimes though, you just need to be the sacrificial lamb and take their wrath.

What about your experiences?  Have you ever had to deal with an unreasonable or bad-tempered client?  How have you dealt with it? Did you retaliate with your own anger or let them have their say and move on?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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5 Alternative Job Search Strategies to Differentiate Yourself in the Market

As one who has lost his job in each economic downturn that has occurred throughout my career and changed jobs once on my own accord, I’ve been through the painful process we call job search more often than I care to admit.  I’ve been through the frustration cycle of searching the job boards, customizing my resume to the job postings, submitting it into the black hole of the internet to hear nothing in return.

I’ve read articles and blogs by the “experts” that provide all the tips on searching for jobs and then tell me to differentiate myself.  Well if we all follow the same advice that all of the experts suggest, how do we differentiate ourselves?

So I combined into my experience as a job seeker, a job hirer and a book promoter and came up with some strategies that may help one differentiate themselves in a large market of job seekers.

1.    Publish articles in magazines that focus on your expertise. Everyone has some expertise in some area that others don’t know about but would like to.  Because you work with people who know about your business or industry as much as you do, you may lose sight of the fact that you’re deep in knowledge that people outside of your industry may be looking for.  Getting published is easier than it has ever been.  Do a simple internet search for ezines or industry trade publications and you are certain to find one that specializes in your area.  Write a well-written article that showcases your experience and expertise and submit it.  Once it’s published, cite it in your resume with a link.  This not only differentiates you as an ‘expert’ in your field, it shows the employer that you are willing to share your knowledge and that you’re serious about what you do.
Alternatively, start a blog and update it regularly.  If you display your knowledge, skills and experience in an intelligent and succinct manner, prospective employers will take note and remember you.

2.    Do volunteer work in your expertise.  This may not be a new suggestion, but it does differentiate you for a few reasons.  First, it keeps your skills sharp.  Like exercise, if you stop doing your job for any extended length of time, your mind tends to get dull.  You forget things that were second nature and it will be hard to ramp back up when you eventually get hired.  Secondly, it fills gaps in your resume with practical experience.  In this ‘great recession’, a resume gap is not the stigma it used to be, but the larger the gap, the more it becomes an issue. Volunteer work can help to reduce the gaps and avoid raising concerns unnecessarily.  Finally, non-profit organizations are feeling pain these days too.  Helping them out with your skills makes it a win-win situation.  Who knows, you may network with another volunteer that can help you find a job.

3. Focus your skills towards the healthcare industry. Over the next several years we will be experiencing a perfect storm in the healthcare industry.  As part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), healthcare providers will be paid incentives for implementing Electronic Medical Records systems over the next four years.  Beginning in 2015, providers will be charged penalties for non-compliance.  This will create a shortage of specialists in Information Technology, Healthcare, Project Management and many other specialties.
Additionally, HIPAA 5010 is a new set of standards regulating the electronic transmission of healthcare transactions.  By federal law, healthcare providers need to convert from the current standard 4010 to HIPAA 5010 by January 1, 2012.
Finally, the International Statistical Classifications of Diseases (ICD) is a set of codes that designate diagnosis, description of symptoms and causes of death for healthcare providers. The industry is converting from their ICD-9 standard to ICD-10, which increases the number of code designations 8-fold. ICD-10 codes must be used on all HIPAA transactions by October 1, 2013 to avoid delays in reimbursement payments.  Targeting your skill set – regardless of your industry background – toward the healthcare industry can improve your chances of getting hired.

4. Take a class in Marketing. While doing your job search, many advisers (expert or otherwise) suggest going back to school to either learn a new skill or brush up on those that you may have gotten behind on.  If you’re able to afford that while unemployed, I would recommend a marketing class.  Looking for a job is the process of marketing yourself to potential employers.  A marketing class will provide you with valuable knowledge on targeting your market – employers – and positioning yourself for your skills to get ‘purchased’ by a ‘consumer’.
I’ve often heard the advice that you should show quantitative value on your resume.  Don’t just tell them that you managed a project or implemented a process; state the value in quantitative terms.  But as a job seeker who has updated his own resume, and an employer who has read hundreds of them, I know that it’s tougher to do than it sounds. It requires identifying and defining your market and understanding what your consumer wants.  Once you do that, you will be better suited to position yourself for that market and state the value of your past experiences in terms that mean something to them.  You may not be a marketer or sales person by trade, but you are now in sales mode and your resume is your ad copy.  A marketing class can help you learn some tricks of the trade to better sell yourself.

5.    Consider Consulting. As any unemployed individual knows, many businesses are hesitant to hire full-time employees.  After the painful, morale destroying process of laying off masses of their employees over the past few years, they are reluctant to begin ramping up staff until they are sure the economy begins improving at a faster clip.  It’s as if everyone is waiting for everyone else to start the recovery.  On top of that, healthcare reform has many businesses waiting to see how much more it will cost to insure new employees.
Businesses have become accustomed to working lean and doing more with less.  If a project comes up that needs to be done, they are more likely to hire a consulting firm to come in, complete the project and get out.  When another project comes up, they can bring in a whole new set of consultants with different expertise and do the same thing.  Businesses like the flexibility of using consultants without the long-term commitment of hiring more employees.  There are consulting firms that are now hiring.  Healthcare reform is driving a large portion of that, but the fact that consulting is an alternative to hiring is also a big push.  There are also options to go independent if you have industry contacts and experience.
Should you decide to consider that route, working in the consulting industry, whether as an independent or with a firm, requires some additional skills.  My book, Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting, provides in depth insight on how to manage client expectations, improve your communication skills and manage your career in a consulting environment.

I’d be interested in what other tactics you’ve used to differentiate yourself in this market.  Please feel free to send your ideas and share them with other readers.

Lew Sauder has worked as an IT consultant for 17 years. He is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com).

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